Hunger Rate Spikes in Rick Perry’s Texas, Even as National Rate Holds Steady

A new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that household hunger remained steady from 2009 to 2010, even though almost 49 million people — a near record number — were affected by food insecurity. Some states even saw their hunger rates decline.

But one glaring exception was the state of Texas, which has been hailed by Gov. Rick Perry (R) as a model for the rest of the nation during these tough economic times:

Built on a measure called “food insecurity,” the study was based on a survey of 45,000 households during the 2010 census, and found 14.5 percent of households had difficulty meeting their food needs — a statistic that was “essentially unchanged” from 2009, according to the agency. Last year saw a decline in the proportion of households with “severe” food insecurity across the country, too.

In Texas, however, the three-year average food insecurity rate did increase, from 17.4 percent in 2007-2009 to the current rate of 18.8 percent in 2008-2010, according to the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Mississippi is the only state with a worse food insecurity rate than Texas. The number of people on food stamps in Texas rose 2.8 percent between 2009 and 2010, and is now a staggering 15.6 percent of the state’s population. The increase was one of the highest in the nation.

Federal officials credit an increase in government food aid for keeping national hunger rates steady. Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have grown to meet increased demand during the recession. However, U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon notes that Texas hasn’t done as well as other large states like Florida that were hit much harder by the downturn, in part because Texas’ food stamp eligibility determination program has been a mess, “with a backlog of nearly 60,000 unprocessed applications after ‘a very inefficient and ineffective privatization scheme.’”

Ironically, Perry has recently been highly critical of the very food stamp program that would have helped his state’s poorest residents get enough to eat. At a campaign stop last month, Perry called the size of the food stamp program a “testament to widespread misery” — instead of an essential aid that’s keeping Texan families alive.

Austin Food Bank’s John Turner says it’s no coincidence that Texas and Mississippi also lead the country in low-wage jobs. For many hard-working Texans, minimum wage jobs just don’t pay enough to stave off hunger. “The vast majority of the 48,000 central Texans this food bank serves every week are employed, hard-working men and women who are just not earning a living wage,” he writes.